We got a metric ton of the Mae Young Classic on Monday, and this week the quality of the wrestling trended up exponentially. The round of sixteen was where the Classic really came into its own, but once again eight women had to walk away after coming up short. This time though, every single loser went home after a performance they could be proud of.
Unfortunately, the internet’s collective addiction to having things organised in easily digestible lists means that to talk about those losers I’m going to have to rank them. So let’s be clear: this is not a list of the best wrestlers who lost in round two of the Mae Young Classic. This list is about impact.
The five women I’m about to talk about are the five who did the most to boost their profiles and further their careers during their two round showings. The women not on this list definitely still showed fire and potential – I was just most impressed by the wrestlers I’ve listed below. Please refrain from being pissy about it in the comments section.
5. Lacey Evans
Aside from one particularly nasty landing, Lacey Evans put on a very respectable match opposite Toni Storm in the second round. Evans is one of those WWE developmental talents who’s started to grow on me now she’s been on TV a few times. The more I see of her the more she seems to be fitting in to the gimmick she’s been given. Her run in the Mae Young Classic, especially her match with Toni Storm, has shown how legitimately hungry she is for success in the business.
Given a year or two in NXT to develop in the ring and add layers to her character Evans could very well be deserving of a big main roster push. I have no idea what it takes to be a US marine, but from what I’ve seen of Evans drive and mental toughness are essential. Already we’ve seen this, with Evans experimenting with more ambitious and creative offence. Expect her to improve leaps and bounds in the next twelve months.
4. Rhea Ripley
I’m quite sure I didn’t see as much of Rhea Ripley in the Mae Young Classic as I would have liked. What I did see of her left me certain there are indie promotions out there who could sell out shows by making her their centrepiece, then building around her. Her dropkick might actually deserve to be uttered in the same sentence as that of Kazuchika Okada, and her obvious size and athleticism only invites this comparison more (capslock rants in the comments section please).
Also, did I mention she’s only twenty fucking years old? Imagine being that good at anything when you’re only twenty. Ripley comes out of this tournament having proved she has star quality, a ton of potential and an ability to deliver creative matches (Kai vs Ripley was the low-key gem of round two). I’m not sure signing with WWE this early in her career is the smart move, but she won’t be short of places to work after her showing in the Mae Young Classic.
3. Bianca Belair
I want to preface my adulation of Bianca Belair with some words of caution. No, Belair is not the finished product. Her immediate potential does not come close to that of her round two opponent Kairi Sane (I’m looking at you, foolish mark from Cageside Seats comment section). But her showing against Sane was a legitimate attention grabber. Her kind of natural charisma doesn’t often come paired with an ability to pull off a 450 splash on the back of a single year’s wrestling training.
There’s signs WWE have big plans for Belair. There are two post match videos on WWE’s Youtube channel putting her over even in defeat. That’s a front office that sees a star in the making. With only a year’s training I’d be hesitant to pull the trigger on Belair quite so soon, were it my decision, but putting her next to someone she can learn from would allow her to improve her game limitlessly. The Batista to Mercedes Martinez’s Triple H, perhaps?
2. Nicole Savoy
Nicole Savoy is really good at suplexes. She’s also got a natural swagger in ring and an air of legitimacy that comes only from years working in Shimmer and AWS. If you’ve been paying close attention to the Mae Young Classic, you might have heard how Savoy’s spent much of the last year recovering from an injury sustained at a WWE try out. What you might not know is how insanely quick she managed to get back to match fitness. It’s a testament to Savoy’s natural humility and batshit work ethic that she was ring ready in time to compete in the Classic.
Given who WWE are high on in this tournament, I’m not sure Savoy’s blend of hard hitting and grappling is “flashy” enough to earn her a push. That said, Savoy’s a complete package who just proved her value as a compelling presence. If, as she admitted in a recent interview, she wants to work in Japan, I don’t think she’ll have any trouble getting hired now. On the other hand, WWE clearly sees dollar signs when they look at Shayna Bazler – and if they want to maximize their new female Brock Lesnar, they’d be wise to utilise the faction she’s part of in Shimmer – Trifecta. That means Mercedes Martinez and Nicole Savoy. As a legitimate badass Savoy would be as entertaining as hell.
1. Mia Yim
In Mia Yim, the Mae Young Classic has spotlighted a wrestler who was ready for primetime before she even set foot in the WWE Performance Centre. Throw Yim onto Raw or Smackdown and she would not only survive but thrive. Like all the most durable wrestling characters, Yim’s gimmick feels built around an exaggeration of her own personality. To put it lightly that makes her extremely relatable, which means it’s super easy to invest in her matches. Add that she’s not only great at wrestling but also very entertaining, and you’ve practically ticked off an entire checklist of what it takes to be a star in WWE.
Anyone who’s seen Yim as Jade on Impact Wrestling will understand why she looked so ready in the Mae Young Classic. In defeat to Shayna Bazler, Yim showed off a babyface fire that should earn her bookings anywhere she wants to go. But in Yim’s case, I think she’s got a very real shot at carving out a successful WWE career. She knows how to navigate both the sports entertainment style and the increasingly popular strong style, and she has the personality to be a fan favourite merchandise seller. If I were WWE I’d seriously consider bumping her straight up to main – given the right storyline she could quickly become a big hit.